Politics: some / Politics: none. Two ways to excel in political journalism. Neither dominates.

"Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Greenwald, and Glenn's domination of newsland for several days, tells us that politics: none is not the only way of excelling in journalism. It now has to share the stage with politics: some."

13 Jun 2013 9:21 pm 82 Comments

I offer one observation about the story that has consumed the worlds of journalism and politics for the last eight days: leaks describing how vast is the United States government’s electronic monitoring of communications. Near the center of that story is Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who was one of three journalists that the leaker, Edward Snowden, chose to trust.

For five days, June 5 to June 9, Greenwald sat atop the journalism world as the revelations he brought forward jolted the rest of the press. Glenn_greenwald_portraitAs Jack Shafer of Reuters wrote on June 8: “This will now fuel new cycles of reporting, leaks and scoops — and another, and another — as new sources are cultivated and reportorial scraps gathering mold in journalists’ notebooks gain new relevance and help break stories. Greenwald’s storm will continue to rage…”

It will. Which brings me to my one observation. This should have been obvious from many prior events trending in the same direction, but as things stand today the proposition is clear to all but the most resistant minds in legacy media: The professional stance that proscribes all political commitments and discourages journalists from having a clear view or taking a firm position on matters in dispute (you can call it objectivity, if you like, or viewlessness, which I like better) is one way of doing good work. A very different professional stance, where the conclusions that you come to by staring at the facts and thinking through the issues serve to identify your journalism… this is another way of doing good work.

They are both valid. They are both standard. (And “traditional.”) They are both major league. Greenwald operates in the second fashion, but the language we have for this style — calling him a blogger or an advocate, hoping that these shorthands convey what’s different about him — is not very illuminating. “Blurring the line between opinion pieces and straight reporting…” is not very illuminating.

My intervention:

Politics: none is what most of the editors and reporters at the Washington Post practice and preach. (But not all.) It is not the natural, inevitable or “right” way to do journalism, but rather a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account of the way things are by foreswearing any political commitment, avoiding overt displays of opinion, and eluding strong conclusions via quotation or summary of competing arguments.

Of course they also try to persuade us by pointing to irrefutable facts, uncovering new information, and being accurate, truthful and fair, but this does not distinguish them from…

Politics: some is what the journalists at the Guardian practice and preach. It is not the natural or inevitable way to do journalism, but a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account by being up front about their commitments, grounding their freely-expressed opinions in fact, and arriving at conclusions through the sound conduct of public argument.

“None” journalists have certain advantages over their “some” colleagues, but the reverse is also true. If you want to appear equally sympathetic to all potential sources, politics: none is the way to go. If you want to avoid pissing off the maximum number of users, politics: none gets it done. (This has commercial implications. They are obvious.) But: if you’re persuaded that transparency is the better route to trust, politics: some is the better choice. And if you want to attract sources who themselves have a political commitment or have come to a conclusion about matters contested within the political community, being open about your politics can be an advantage. That is the lesson that Glenn Greenwald has been teaching the profession of journalism for the last week. Edward Snowden went to him because of his commitments. This has implications for reporters committed to the “no commitments” style.

I know Glenn. Glenn is a pro. I mean that in different ways. Obviously he gets paid to write his columns. But he is also an independent force in drawing traffic, reader reaction and dollar support. He is methodical. He is responsible. He thinks the public should know what’s going on. He spends most of his time verifying, digging and writing, delivering information in the form of public argument about what the government is really doing. Familiar in the arts of denunciation and the joys of savage critique, he is also trained as a litigator. He is good at dividing what can be documented from what can be said because the documentation is missing.

This is the life of a political journalist, although it is equally correct to say that Glenn is a lawyer who writes about the fate of the republic rather than practicing law. He is also an activist, if we mean by that someone who thinks his fellow citizens should wake up and change things, and who participates himself within the limits of the forms he has chosen. With Greenwald the forms are writing, blogging, researching, political commentary in the “reported opinion” style, public speaking and appearing on television. He is good at all of them.

Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Greenwald, and Glenn’s domination of newsland for several days tells us that politics: none is just one way of excelling at political journalism. I do not think it invalid. It simply has to share the stage with politics: some. Together they make for a strong press.


I personally don’t see how any journalist above the rank of cub reporter could ever practice ‘politics: none”. Once you’ve written enough and worked with enough stories, your natural leanings will come through in your voice, no matter how you try to avoid that.

Media bias is displayed on a daily basis in the politics: none form of reporting. During a vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan last October, moderator Martha Raddatz displayed her own conservative bias by parroting the far right lie about Social Security and Medicare going broke, when in fact both programs are doing quite well. Gleen Greenwald reported on how Raddatz’ obvious bias shaped the terms of the debate, and Biden, the Democrat, accepted them without hesitation. It is impossible for media figures not to show any political bias.

Thanks. In this post I am contrasting two different ways of describing what you’re doing as a political journalist and bidding for the audiences’s trust. One is called politics: none and one I called politics: some.

However: I am not trying to make the claim that journalists who take the politics: none approach are free from any and all bias.

i don’t think you get out of this one so easily. the very name “politics:none” isn’t just defined by what you want it to mean, it also has some inherent definitions. and they are clearly “without bias”. politics are a priori bias, and Not politics is therefore without it.

can’t have your cake and eat it too.

One can very well have their cake and eat it, too. What one cannot do is to eat their cake and have it, too. The latter is the original proverb and contains the intended contradiction inherent between two conflicting ideas. If I have a cake I can certainly eat it, but if I’ve already eaten it I can hardly have it anymore. The word order does alter the meaning. A long time ago the verb phrases were reversed to become what they are today. Off the subject, I know, but repeating words whose meaning has been eviscerated is to perpetuate meaninglessness.

Okay, let me try this again. By politics: none, which is not a phrase in common use but one I made up for purposes of this post, I mean that if we ask a journalist who takes this approach, “what are your politics?” the answer we would get would be equivalent to “none.” The actual words might be something like, “I don’t do opinion, I do news,” or, “I’m not taking a stand, I’m just reporting the story.”

You can try to inform me, in as many ways as you like, that I cannot mean this, or it does not work, or that you don’t buy it, or that the English language will not permit it– nonetheless.. . that is the intent of the phrase.

And thank you, but I don’t need your reminders that there is no “pure” objectivity and no position from which to observe that is wholly without politics. I am highly aware of that, as any regular reader of my work would know.

George Doctoroe says:

Good column. Thought provoking and right on the money. Politics some appears to prevail on cable news these days.

I understood the terms politics: none and politics: some easily enough. I also liked the term viewlessness as a useful alternative to objectivity, which is impossible. Whoever writes about politics, or about anything for that matter, is informed by their life experience and that will be reflected in what is written whether or not the writer is aware of it. And all the worse is the writer is not aware of it. Rather than the useless and misleading term objectivity I have long espoused journalistic fairness, which is entirely possible.

Jay. i’d say that ‘politics – a lot’ would be a far better description of the WaPo. Just consider the Iraq War, or any other potential war that the US could be involved in.

The night before I began my professional career in small town news I wandered the house looking for something to read. In my son’s room, I came across an old copy of S.I. Hayakawa’s “Language in Action.” Hayakawa said we all have bias (Hayakawa called that “slant”. The job of a reporter is to recognize his or her slant, and write the story in a way that provides balance. For me, that means I keep my credibility with readers, sources and those all-important advertisers.

Pat-Season says:

I agree that politics:some is interesting and needed. I would label my reading interests as politics:little of everything

I think that the benefit and appeal of Barton Gellman (politics:less than some/more than none)is that you (well, me) want to listen and learn from him, he’s like a teacher with information. You know where he’s coming from and he’s not fanatical. There’s trust. I lean towards WaPo style over Guardian

rollotomasi says:

Longtime reader here, long enough to know you have been pretty rough – rightfully so, imo – on the view from nowhere. May be mistaken, but I recall that you said something to the effect that framing the reportage in such an “above the fray” manner is itself a political position, in particular when there are discrepancies in the truthfulness or actual policy effectiveness of the respective “sides.” Now you seem to give it a pass.

In fact, this very post seems to possess many of the characteristics of that which you have disparaged all these years. Is that the point?

It is a position, yes. Or as I called it in this piece, a “form of persuasion.” I have not changed my view on that.

For reference, see:


Let’s have View from Nowhere people flourishing side by side with “here’s where I’m coming from” journalists, and see what happens. Ease up and let both systems operate– sometimes within the same news organization. During the episode in which a fine young reporter, Dave Weigel, lost his job at the Washington Post because he was perceived as insufficiently uncommitted, Ben Smith of the Politico stood up for this kind of pluralism: “My personal view is that ideological and neutral journalism can flourish side by side, each going places the other is unwelcome, and each correcting for the other’s weaknesses.”

I wouldn’t use the terms he used, but I am willing to sign on to the remedy.

Let some in the press continue on with the mask of impartiality, which has advantages for cultivating sources and soothing advertisers. Let others experiment with transparency as the basis for trust…

rollotomasi says:

Thanks, Prof. Rosen, that’s good to hear. When you described both professional stances as “ways of doing good work” and “valid,” that brought to mind the never-ending establishment media pieces that go to great pains to treat the left vs. right / Dem. vs. Rep. positions as equally valid, regardless of realities. I see such treatments as having done more harm to the discussion that good over the years, and I see Glenn’s work as an antidote.

I do get that you primarily were defending Glenn’s type of journalism as valid and having its own tradition, particularly in the court of journalists who self-identify as “objective” or “savvy,” or both.

I like your term “viewlessness,” given the sacred status that objectivity still holds in many quarters of traditional journalism.

Let’s give a nod to Edward Jay Epstein, whose book “News From Nowhere” plied some of this turf, with respect to broadcast journalism, a few decades ago.


I think politics: none really does not exist in political reporting. Most reporting on political or social subjects attempts to influence opinion, if just through the formation of a ‘narrative’. The civic journalism you at times have championed, what is reported or more importantly what is not all contribute to a politics: some position.

The politics: none is just a way to attempt to keep the journalist’s fingerprints off the attempt to sway opinion.

As in I presented both sides but you know which one is right. wink, wink, nudge, nudge

You even say:

“Of course they also try to persuade us by pointing to irrefutable facts, uncovering new information, and being accurate, truthful and fair …”

Accurate, truthful, and fair does not mix very well with persuasion.

And at the heart of persuasion is the belief that you know better than the person or people you arae trying to persuade.

Accurate, truthful and fair are also modes of persuasion. http://bit.ly/1a9CEgm

“In effect, his entire speech is an attempt to increase the respectability of the ethos of literature, largely accomplished by tying it to Cicero’s own, already established, public character.”

Is it fair or accurate to tie the “respectability of the Ethos of literature” to “Cicero’s own already established public Charactrer.

Seems like a variatioin of the logical fallacy appeal to authority.

Facts speak for themselves, persuasion by its very nature implies gray areas in human interaction.

Facts can’t possibly speak for themselves. Anthropomorphization: yet another persuasion tactic.

Touché, informative, yet non-responsive.

I think that politics:none and politics: some both have their place. I realize that every journalist ever has biases that can be traced through his/her writing, but I still think the “none” approach can be fairly achieved. Both styles need each other for balance in the media.

Nathaniel B says:

Professor Rosen,

How would you fit the NYT’s habit of calling torture, when committed by the United States, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, within the “Politics of None” rubric?

How could journalists, committed to the “Politics of None”, properly have addressed the administration’s strident claims that their actions were not torture, without appearing like a “Politics of Some” practitioner? Because as soon as they call it torture . . . they’d be inviting all sorts of criticism that the Grey Lady is anti-American. What’s the remedy? Better Managing Editors? Those not afraid to withstand the head?


I think that one is easy. “Enhanced interrogation” is a far more political a term than torture.

The mistake the Times editors made was worrying about the appearance of seeming “too political.” That wound them into knots.

but in this configuration, the very existence of “politics: none” as opposed to politics:some caused the problem. it was keller’s desire to appear neutral that made it impossible for him to call things as they actually were, e.g. torture rather than “enhanced interrogation”. it doesn’t take orwell, or bob somersby, to note that if you establish what you think neutral is, it is going to be easy for those in power to simply shift the definitions such that neutral becomes “neutral”, with an inevitable bias towards those who exercise power.

and if that’s the case, politics:some becomes neutral. as we know, the distance between truthtelling of the shape of the earth isn’t “half-flat”, and even if there are many who pay to confuse us on the issue, the person who asserts, based on a rational and reasoned analysis of past facts and current data, that the earth is ROUND, is practicing both “politics:some” and truthtelling, and that means there’s an inverse: politics:none is actually a political stance.

shorter this: f*ck politics:none, it’s a sucker’s game.

Professor Rosen,

Is viewlessness the same as the view from nowhere? I like viewlessness as a good way to describe an objective approach. Doesn’t the view from nowhere try to report on all sides even those with no substantiated merit other than being an opposing view? The view from nowhere seems a bit vapid while viewlessness a bit objective. Is that correct?

The way I think of it, viewlessness is tolerable, as long as we realize it is a means of persuasion. The View from Nowhere is as you describe.

[…] Politics Some / Politics None: Two Ways to Excel in Political Journalism, Neither Dominates (PressThink) Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Glenn Greenwald, and Glenn’s domination of newsland for several days, tells us that politics: none is not the only way of excelling in journalism. It now has to share the stage with politics: some. I offer one observation about the story that has consumed the worlds of journalism and politics for the last eight days: leaks describing how vast is the United States government’s electronic monitoring of communications. Near the center of that story is Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who was one of three journalists that the leaker, Snowden, chose to trust. […]

Dear Professor Rosen,
I found your post to be insightful and helpful for those trying to grasp with the line between bloggers and journalists. In the UK, this is a contentious issue as the new media threatens the old media political establishment.

On the substantive point you made regarding Mr. Greenwald:

“[I]t is equally correct to say that Glenn is a lawyer who writes about the fate of the republic rather than practicing law. He is also an activist, if we mean by that someone who thinks his fellow citizens should wake up and change things, and who participates himself within the limits of the forms he has chosen.”

I wonder if the fate of the Republic is at stake. How does one assume the mantle of awakening the Republic? In that regard, how do we distinguish the sophists from the rhetoricians, let alone the philosophers.

I doubt that Mssrs. Greenwald and Snowden are “waking up” a sleeping Republic. The Republic is awake, what it chooses to do is different from what Mssrs. Greenwalk and Snowden wish it to do. If they are truly interested in saving the Republic, that is its soul, they have chosen to focus on symptoms which promote their interests more than address the underlying issues, which confront the regime.

America is a nation of laws and to change America you have to change the laws. To change the laws, you must influence or educate the lawmakers. Persuasion has little to do with lawmakers because as adults they have already formed their views of the world. In other words, you must habituate or inculcate opinions of the common good from an early age if you are going to change the Republic. The revelations and leaks have done neither because they do not raise fundamental question about the regime. To put it differently, but directly, those decisions regarding privacy and security have already been made. Moreover, they are simply secondary considerations to what challenges the American regime.

As a result, most political reporting is simply partisan rhetoric, at its best, and sophistry at its worst. All too often, the political reporting only seeks special pleading for a part of the regime, their faction, rather than attempting to speak for the whole. I suppose in that sense, they simply practice what Madison created with the 10th Federalist. In that regard, it is less persuasion than promotion. The two while related, are not the same and therein lies the problem. We have confused rhetoric for reason.

Thanks again for a stimulating and thoughtful post.

Michael price says:

But it’s not a nation of laws. If it were the NSA spies would be under arrest for violating your civil rights. Or at least they would be worried about it. In a nation of laws the criminal not the informer, flees the country.

[…] Jay Rosen on how Glenn Greenwald’s NSA scoops validate the project of opinion-driven reporting, or as I like to call it, opinionated […]

[…] Politics Some / Politics None: Two Ways to Excel in Political Journalism, Neither Dominates (PressThink) Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Glenn Greenwald, and Glenn’s domination of newsland for several days, tells us that politics: none is not the only way of excelling in journalism. It now has to share the stage with politics: some. I offer one observation about the story that has consumed the worlds of journalism and politics for the last eight days: leaks describing how vast is the United States government’s electronic monitoring of communications. Near the center of that story is Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who was one of three journalists that the leaker, Snowden, chose to trust. […]

Željko Vranić says:

Professor Rosen,

Do you think it is even possible to present two strongly opposing views equally good?

I would expect not. If you really don’t have strong personal opinion about the matter or you are strongly for middle ground then both views will be weakly/less then ideally presented, and if you tend to lean to one side, then other one must end up underrepresented? If not by lack of arguments then by lack of passion in presenting them?

If your answer is yes, how many politics:none-journalists/bloggers can really do it in your opinion?

I think it is possible to fairly and accurately present a view you do not share, yes.

In fact, I think it is one of the most reliable tests of intellectual honesty, and I use it all the time as a reader. If you cannot paraphrase well a view you do not share, you are not a reliable reporter or critic.

As you once explained to me, “By my definition, a competent paraphrase is where I [the journalist] tell you what you said, you read it, and you recognize it: ‘yeah, more or less… I wouldn’t use those words, but yes.'”

So then the best way measure a journalist’s competency in paraphrasing would be by surveying those who the journalist has paraphrased, right?

Who gets high marks in your experience? Who gets low marks?

How very interesting your framing of the issue between “none” and “some”. But these are not the only possible positions of political journalism, there is also “all”, “everytime”.

Coming from a country (Italy) whose journalism always accepted the “some” theory, but ended up practicing “all & everytime”, I would argue that “none” is a better target.

For an Italian journalist/reader is very interesting to read Glenn’s stories and compare their style with Glenn’s tweets: he may have had a political point to make, but in his stories he tries to be as factual as possible, in his tweets he lets his most opinionated self.

In other words: from an Italian perspective, reading the Washington Post and the Guardian stories, they look very very similar.

Interesting, thanks. I considered adding another category, politics: only to take account of what you are saying.

This comment came in via Twitter from NomDePlume9:

Part of the Snowden-Greenwald story is Greenwald’s decision to conceal 99.75% of the documents he received from Snowden. Greenwald’s only explanation, as far as I have found, is:

“[Snowden] specifically asked that we not just dump everything, but constantly weigh public value v. gratuitous harm.”

From that, Greenwald’s personal conception of “harm” remains unclear. In Feinstein and Peter King’s view, Greenwald’s PRISM reporting has served “gratuitous harm” more than “public value”; while in Snowden’s apparent view, Greenwald has underestimated the “public value” of disclosure about U.S. spying on Chinese civilians.[1]

My personal questions about the values shaping Greenwald’s editorial discretion are here.


I hope he will say more about that, since he is does not pretend to be objective.

[1] Washington Post states “Snowden presented ‘unverified documents’ describing an extensive U.S. campaign to obtain information from computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.”

[…] Journalism professor Jay Rosen examines complaints that my having strong, candidly acknowledged opinions on surveillance policies somehow means that […]

Very simplistic, full of assumptions, lacking any evidence, leaving its terms undefined. What do you mean by “politics”? Every journalist is overtly political on such key issues as free speech and the public’s right to know. The notion that “politics: none” is merely a pose taken to persuade readers while not being transparent overlooks the obvious possibility that forswearing political attachments might actually make the journalist not have political attachments. The notion that “politics: some” is about “transparency” undertaken to persuade readers overlooks the obvious possibility that advocacy journalism might just be about personal axe-grinding. And where is “politics: all,” which would describe all early journalism and a lot of today’s? In any case, the application of all this to the Guardian, Greenwald and Snowden is far more complicated. Snowden offered material to Greenwald, who ignored him, then he went to other journalists; the Guardian then did not simply let Greenwald write up the story, but partnered him with far more objective journalists.

[…] Powers on the lamentable but predictable media and government focus on Snowden’s personality. Here is  a nice piece by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen contrasting the neutral and opinionated […]

I was very disappointed with the initial reporting of the story. It got the nature of the data collection very wrong. And while other articles have since cleared that up and correction have been made, it remains the case that the initial story continues in many people’s minds.
And so, just like we have a segment of people who believe you can get thrown in jail for not having health insurance or that death panels exist to deny care, you have people that believe the NSA can browse through anyone’s info on social media services with no court order or warrant needed.

This is because Greenwald and others couldn’t be bothered to make sure it was right before publishing.

As far as death panels you might want to talk to the little girl and her family who had to fight in court to get a lung transplant after HHS denied her request for a waiver.

“I would suggest, sir, that, again, this is an incredibly agonizing situation where someone lives and someone dies,” Sebelius told Barletta. “The medical evidence and the transplant doctors who are making the rule — and have had the rule in place since 2005 making a delineation between pediatric and adult lungs, because lungs are different that other organs — that it’s based on the survivability [chances].”

I do not necessarily disagree with Sebilius, but whether this a good rule, or a death panel denying care depends upon whether or not you need the transplant.

Glenn Greenwald is a treasure, a reporter and columnist who cherishes our democracy.

Everythings Jake says:

I have overwhelmingly a high regard for the work Mr. Greenwald does, but I am concerned that he occasionally sidelines into what registers as petty squabbling and I do not think this helps his cause. Much as I enjoy a great Jessica Yellin or Dina Temple-Raston takedown, what was gained by slamming Barton Gellman on Twitter, or by the way he derided Mika Brzezinski (not that she isn’t richly deserving)? I think Glenn needs to think strategically about how he registers on the public.

I understand he was tired, and I’m somewhat sympathetic to the idea that in short form, soundbite journalism, it may be the most effective way to punch through, but I’m concerned that he opens himself to a level of marginalization. We need those who would be distracted by, for example, the “unkind way he treated that woman” (whether the characterization would be accurate is I think immaterial) not to be distracted, and to trust him as he tells these stories. Particularly in light of the significance of what he’s reporting on, I hope we’ll see a more masterful Greenwald emerge, someone who harnesses the occasional flashes of anger so as not to get drawn into personality conflict.

[…] Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU, has written a post on PressThink explaining to types of valid journalism. One is based on objectivity (or […]

Professor Rosen:

I have great respect for you, and we agree on many things about social media and its impact on journalism and society, and I feel you do very important and influential work in that regard. But here I think you have allowed your own political point of view, and friendship with Glenn Greenwald to bias how you discuss his latest incendiary screeds which many feel were only the latest example of his often dubious “reporting.” And this time, it’s not just his taking another of his usual Libertarian swipes at executive power or its excesses, but rather a very flawed account of (and his contributions to) a much larger story and issue which could very well have lasting effects on the future welfare and security of the United States and its allies.

While it already has to some degree, I think when more facts of this story emerge, some of what you’ve said here may reveal a whitewashing of some really terrible journalistic malpractice. And if that happens, your piece will serve as a cautionary tale about what can happen when critics are too friendly with the person or issue they are critiquing.

Despite making several excellent points about what the role of opinion injection can or should be in journalism today, nowhere in this piece do you ever address the larger—and much more important—issue of the overall integrity and quality of Greenwald’s reporting (or lack thereof).

Contrary to your anecdotal appraisals of Glenn’s professionalism, many observers of his career would strenuously disagree with some of your assessments and postures about it. (A fairly good dissection of some of his work for Salon is linked below.) Similar to what he has done many times before with his factually sloppy and blatantly contrived polemics, Glenn created a global firestorm implying that the NSA had “direct access” to the servers of these companies.

Evidently, Glenn never investigated what such words actually meant or implied, nor consulted with any experts who could tell him what they might mean, nor made it clear to readers that he didn’t have enough expertise to know what they might mean. He simply put out his convenient (or calculated) characterizations of a very fuzzy fact because he knew it would set everyone’s hair on fire (precisely as it did). This is not new for Greenwald. It’s not a “style.” It’s a tactic.

His wrongful read of a single key fact changed the entire complexion of a story with international implications. Even national security implications. Remove it, and the story was mostly about someone disliking a policy and deciding for themselves to go public with some sensational claims without any significant proof of anything illegal or even unknown. That’s not mere opinion or advocacy at work. That’s manipulation. And it’s just wrong.

And despite many demands that he do so, Greenwald arrogantly and defiantly refuses to walk it back, ever after the Washington Post already did so. That is the only really relevant issue here, and not whether having a “politics:some” point of view or agenda is material to, or valid within the context of a journalist’s work. This isn’t about whether the journalist can push his point of view to persuade… but whether he can bend or contrive facts of the story to suit that effort to persuade. Outside of the ivory tower of academic journalism, the general public intuitively expects a journalist to do his best to present the basic facts first, before imposing his own conclusions or opinions upon the data.

Greenwald is famous for using his pen to create dramas where only he sees them, largely for political (or careerist) purposes, and then fleshing out his narratives to disguise or obfuscate his true intent. He doesn’t just occasionally do this. He consistently does it in story after story. Whether to impugn the liberalism of Supreme Court nominees, or ascribing the very worst possible motives to anything the Obama administration has done (since his first inauguration), Greenwald has comically sacrificed objectivity and professionalism time after time in order to bake his own libertarian outlook and confirmation bias into his “reporting.” In my view, to not clearly acknowledge your awareness of these many criticisms over many years is a serious disservice to your readers and students.

The sensational nature of Greenwald’s story now seems all too predicated on the perceptions and pontifications of a morally erratic idealist making grandiose claims that cannot be verified (such as his ability to wiretap the president of the United States). No intelligence officer on this planet—even those with far more access than Snowden has—can do that. Ask one.

And misstating his salary alone should be a clue that Snowden’s veracity surely needs more due diligence than any that Greenwald offered to his readers (which was essentially none beyond “I spoke to him for hours in a hotel room”). Despite this, you give your friend Glenn every conceivable benefit of the doubt, where none seems to have been earned in the context of the reporting itself. I am not a journalist, nor a professor of journalism. but it seems to me that with or without personal opinion,reporting that distorts the basic contours of a story cannot be labeled any kind of journalism other than bad journalism.

Greenwald knows that most of what Snowden alleges cannot be discussed by the NSA or the justice department. The responsible journalist, knowing this, would do everything possible to check every last element of the story and its source. Greenwald seems to have done little of either because he didn’t care. The story neatly fit the narratives of his entire career. Too neatly. In his video, Snowden uses expressions one can’t find anywhere in his many forum posts on the Internet. They magically appear, along with his supposedly deep convictions, in this one magical video interview where almost everything said supports or illustrates points Greenwald has asserted time and time again in his anti-authoritarian screeds for Salon and the Guardian. All with a suspiciously well-oiled prose that smacks of selective editing and implanted narratives, if not outright coaching.

There are far more facts to be vetted in this story, and many seem to be dialing back on their conclusions based only on what has come to light so far about how this story was mangled. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I, and several of your readers are left to wonder if you would go out on such a limb for a journalist you did not personally know, or a political story you did not feel so personally invested in (for good reason).

Most informed liberals I know agree with me that the Patriot Act was always Bush-era Republican overreach and should be repealed sooner than later. And having this discussion about it is a good thing. But outcomes don’t justify means of reaching them. Regardless of what you, me, or any of us feel about that issue or the NSA and its secretive activities, having a discussion based on distorted or blatantly bad information is in no one’s best interests. Deliberately pushing such bad information is not mere “persuasion” to Greenwald’s many critics, but rather, plain old fashioned demagoguery.

In the interests of balance, I’ve enclosed a few links to just a few recent items about Greenwald’s “journalism.” These—and many others that can be found by simple Google search—should be seen by any student of Glenn’s career before deciding on whether he reports on issues, or more often creates them for his own purposes. You can imply that his techniques are valid journalistic devices if you wish. But many of us prefer to call them what they so often are: lying.

I will continue to like and admire you and your work. But I think this post, and your views on this matter are not just wrong, but they may actually encourage students to admire a very destructive form and branch of journalism.

Glenn Greenwald’s ‘Epic Botch’ – TheNation/Rick Perlstein

The Final Word On Glenn Greenwald, By DailyKos/Troubadour

Snowden and Greenwald Beginning to Self-Destruct; ‘The Nation’ and ‘Mother Jones’ Raise Questions

Official Helpful Media Guide For Interacting With Glenn Greenwald, by Chez Pazienza

What’s Glenn Greenwald’s Problem? By Daniel Trombly

Of Broken Clocks, Presidential Candidates, and the Confusion of Certain White Liberals, by Tim Wise>

If SHOQ is motivated by broad ethical principle rather than narrow material rewards for writing such attacks, then that principle has to be something about the need for elite rule or “glorious” hierarchy to dominate societies. Such a philosophy would be based on myths that the rabble doesn’t have what it takes for self-rule, morally, intellectually. In fact, humanity evolved in tribes of under 150 members so the evolutionary success of our species, encoded in our genes, includes the tribal social structure, which not only validates the tribal structure, but requires that structure to maximize the people’s wellbeing. So localism, or small independent communities of under 150 people, must trump the galactic hierarchy that SHOQ is trying to defend above. In the localist, tribal, social organization, we defend the actual inner truth of people, our true needs, which are very similar among people. Obviously we need to defend ourselves from the onslaught of elite rule, socio-economic and class hierarchy, the oppressions of elite rule, or rule by the sociopathic ego. The people’s self-defense from rule by sociopaths resonates strongly with Greenwald’s principles, philosophy, politics.

Rosen’s analysis of “politics:none” & “politics:some” appears designed to challenge conventional wisdom just enough as to not upset people who went through the elite-driven curricula, in the journalism schools but also across all the other occupational sectors. A much more harsh way to frame the truth goes like this: Ok, everyone, you’ve been indoctrinated to serve elites, so just admit that to begin with, then we’ll consider how to get yourselves out of that mess. Here’s how: If you really want to support the people in our quest to achieve self-determination, self-rule, the “politics:none” journalism has to go the way of the dodo bird, as does most of the curriculum in the business schools, and most of all the rest of the mythology of “das kapital”. In its place we have to visualize and achieve the people’s agenda, the agenda that puts the people first, reorganizing the society as a network of local autonomous communities, or tribes, with global solidarity and cooperation. Organize the journalism curriculum and everything else to support this societal structure.

ironymobile says:

Thank you. What is at issue here are not GG’s politics but his professional practices.

This post isn’t the work of a press critic; it’s the work of a fanboy. It’s kind of sad that Jay can’t seem to bring himself to write one negative word about his hero. Not that Greenwald would be open to hearing it anyway.

But it seems the new generation of “press critics” can’t write anything bad about their friends and ideological soulmates. Greenwald never wrote one bad word about Johann Hari, even though Hari literally admitted making things up. If Greenwald was really an independent press critic who is all about higher principle, shouldn’t he have, um, at least mentioned that? If Hari was in the MSM, wouldn’t Greenwald have gone after him?

But it seems with these guys, it’s agenda and friends first, truth second. The exact opposite of how a journalist should act.


[…] NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen examines complaints that my having strong, candidly acknowledged opinions on surveillance policies somehow means that […]

I couldn’t get past the horrific writing of this ‘journalist’ to get to his actual hypothesis…even though I imagine I probably would have agreed to it. A little trip to te old Srrunk & White, please!

[…] liked this piece on Glenn Greenwald and the journalism objectivity debate. It’s not […]

Frank Samuel Mishkin says:

Those who claim to be unbiased are the least trustworthy of all.

There is, and has never been, any such entity.

If you think you are being objective, I have an example of fact(s) or context that you have omitted which would change the understanding of the audience. You either knowingly or unknowingly left this information out of your report. Either way, it was a biased take.

Cuz there is nothing but bias. In a world of limited resources and time, there is no such thing as “objectivity”.

You will experience confirmation bias (rooted in all the various motivations you are experiencing) in your investigation. You will tend to discount aspects that you find disagreeable (for whatever reason). You can not help yourself. It is not possible.

Objectivity does not exist. But the dishonest, self-serving delusion of personal objectivity most certainly does exist. It takes courage to accept one’s own weaknesses. Most people are not strong enough to accept their own inherent limitations, and the belief in one’s own objectivity is often at the core of this personal limitation. You are fooling yourself. You are a liar.

The more you embrace state power and secrecy, the more you are forcing others to become victims of your own delusion. You take comfort in your false belief about yourself and you attribute that false belief to the powerful entity you want to benefit from, (and, most likely, want to be a participant in). You are a selfish liar. And you are biased.

Therefore, those practicing politics: some are inherently somewhat “more truthful” than those claiming to practice politics: none. The former can, potentially at least, work to understand and be open as to the the factors playing into their own biased take.

The latter are not even capable of that sort of self-examination. They may tell you things that are commonly accepted as “factually correct”, and may use that position as a defense of their objectivity. To that, I can only say, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. I shall grant thee the title of ‘statistician’.”

Respect my rights.

I’ll respect yours.

That’s all we MUST agree on, EVER. Everything else is little more than veiled personal preference, along with its accompanying bias.

This is not apropos of anything in this thread or directly related to this post, just a realization I have had over the last few weeks.

In all of my writing, including here at PressThink and in my short link and comment posts on Twitter, I start from an assumption that it is a critic’s duty to point out in detail the difference between what an institution says it is–the way it tries to explain, justify, delimit and legitimate itself–and what it is actually revealed to be by events. And I think this duty applies whether or not that gap is surprising or “new.”

But for many of my most vocal respondents, this is silly. And so they react to me with lines like “oh, come on, this isn’t new!” or “this surprises you?” or some other groan intended to convey to me how clueless I appear to be, or just to say they are puzzled that I would highlight such a thing.

That’s not the realization, though. (I am tempted to say: nothing new in that!) The realization is that a vast gulf in attitude separates me from this group of responders. I worry about the legitimacy of our social institutions, and so pointing out where that legitimacy is threatened seems worthwhile. But they find little value in that activity, perhaps because they see the legitimacy as irretrievably gone. And I can well imagine the reasons for that.

But I am not going to change my approach. And I know that they are not going to change their response. Therefore… actually, I haven’t gotten to the therefore. So I am stuck where I left it.

bystander says:

You prompt the thought that “timing” matters.

Something might not be new – except for the first time it was reported – but its importance hasn’t changed. Not-new things can be important every time that not-new thing is reported anew.

But, who knows exactly where the tipping point is for an important thing, that has been ignored in the past, to ignite in the present? Or, the future? I’m a little suspicious that folks who argue – “Oh, that’s not new” – have an agenda to dampen the tinder.

For some, it may serve as the super cynical, oh, so, sophisticated response that marks them as uber-something. But, I wonder… That response also seems to have the intended effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy. “See, it didn’t ignite when it was new, and so it’s not important now.” That either suggests a lack of imagination into how movements can happen and grow energy, or the knowledgeable entity desires to prevent an accretion of energy which might lead to some movement.

pseudonymously says:

I like to imagine these readers posting the same sentiment on the talk page of every Wikipedia article they come across.

NewsCat_in_DC says:

But isn’t part of that gulf is because as an academic, you study problems in systems, but you may not be able to provide solutions. But people reading your explanations of problems feel like “yeah I know, but tell us how to fix it!” Now what solutions that will ever be found only come from deep examinations–if at all. But psychologically, that is deeply demotivating to most of your audience. It’s depressing, you aren’t fixing the problem, you are just spelling it out. They want you to know they want answers, not depressing analysis.

Probably so. But I am constrained from delivering fixes when there are no fixes that are likely to work (without large shifts in public opinion and political behavior that are nowhere on the horizon) by another duty: truthtelling!

I accept that the perception of academics by some is that their job is to provide a solution to the problem. But as Jay’s response indicates, there is an inherent problem with this expectation to begin with. Journalism/media is not something that can be fixed with a single operating code that all journalists follow and which has the effect of fixing the press.

The media is now, more than ever, comprised of what all of us are contributing and the press is a part of the media. A group of scholars can’t change the way people (journalists or the broader public sphere) think or behave. Scholars can describe the patterns and offer ideas for journalists and citizens to work with toward understanding how to operate in their roles in democracy. Scholars can teach the new crop of journalists how to better operate in the changed media environment. And to the extent that the public seeks out understanding of how journalists and the media works, scholars can help the public to understand how everything works together.

Beyond that, your expectation of what scholars should do is analogous to expecting medical doctors to simply cure chronic diseases like cancer or AIDS or it’s like thinking that a group of economists should be able to simply solve how to make the economy work best for society. Doctors or economic scientists seek to understand these problems, provide possible solutions, etc… But there is disagreement about what to do, and there are inherent problems that are potentially insurmountable. So then your best hope is that the doctor can provide ideas for at least managing and mitigating the problems as they exist. I think this is the kind of thing that someone like Jay and others can do for the media.

[…] to WikiLeaks and whistle-blower Bradley Manning — a point that journalism professor Jay Rosen made in a recent post as […]

[…] Rosen wrote a insightful post forking the practice of journalism into “politics: none” (that is, traditional American […]

Read this Twitter thread:


Or read any Greenwald Twitter thread.

Is that how you think professional Journalists should act? Do you think your students should act that way? Is that a role model? If so, I am really disappointed that NYU would have you a professor.

Interacting with people does not mean continually insulting them.

Greenwald is getting legit criticisms of his work, and he just responds with spite. Shouldn’t journalists have a higher standard? Shouldn’t they be open to the idea that they did something wrong? When you critique your students’ work, should they take that criticism or question your motives?

You called Cnet’s story on Nadler’s comments a “disaster.” And yet Glenn retweeted the initial story, and then never mentioned any of the problems with it (as Barton Gellman did). Because he’s an advocate. He’s a lawyer. He is laying out a case. He not a journalist. Because journalists are about the truth. You as a professor should know the difference.

You say you “know Glenn.” This blog doesn’t contain one hint of a criticism of him. It is pure fanboy. It doesn’t even hint at the limitations of the advocacy approach (namely, you become some wedded to your thesis that you react angrily to criticism, as Glenn does.)

I would like you to perhaps devote one post to the limitations of Glenn’s approach, and to the limitations of how he handles criticisms. Truthfully, have you ever written anything negative about him? Do you have the guts to say, oh, perhaps he could do things better? Or are you too much his friend? Or perhaps do you worry he will trash you too?

The post says there are advantages and disadvantages to the politics: some approach. Pissing people off and over-reacting to criticism woud be two in the dis- category. So yes, there are limitations.

On Twitter, which you referenced, I have shared with 120,000 followers some of the strongest criticisms of Glenn Greenwald and the story he has been piecing together, as part of keeping them informed about the progress of the story.


Greenwald provokes strong reactions and has strong reactions with which to provoke people. It is a feature of his style.

Um, I don’t see any discussion of the limitations to that approach in this piece. In fact, you praise it, and its leading practioner. If people are going to take you seriously as a journalistic theorist on this topic, shouldn’t you go into more depth of the pros and cons? Right now, you have a pretty big thumb on the scale.

If you are going to be a true and responsible press critic, then you should be willing to criticize your friends (and ideological compatriots) in the press. I just see fanboy-ism here. If you actually – gasp – dare to be independent minded on Twitter, congrats. (And I”m not sure retweeting counts.). Perhaps you want to extend that independent streak to this blog.

The point is both “none’ and “some” approaches should center on the same question: Is what I’m writing true? I don’t think Greenwald practices that. In fact, he has said that in his piece he wrote about both what Snowden leaked, and what the companies said. And then didn’t prove, other than a leaked slide that is open to interpretation, what was true. Because he didn’t have it. Isn’t that the standard “he said she said” approach that you vilify?

Having strong opinions is also a feature of the style of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Fidelity to the truth, and being open to different ways of getting to the truth, should be the hallmark of a good journalist.

I follow Glenn Greenwald, and I think he very much is “about the truth.” He is explicitly covering only the subject matter he cares passionately about, and is trying to uncover truth in that realm; this makes him an advocate, yes– he is admittedly and purposefully an advocate– but advocacy and truth are hardly contradictory. Having followed him for some time, and having seen many critiques of his work, I have yet to see any convincing debunking of his conclusions. He does make errors, but unlike mainstream media sources, all “not one comma” hyperbole aside, he does acknowledge those errors, in real time, in the same place and at the same “volume,” if you will, that the original errors were made. He also shows his work: background materials, links to supporting texts; if sources must be anonymous, he explains why, and only allows anonymity to protect the weak, not the strong… all practices the mainstream media *should* adopt as the norm, but have not. He also engages in constant dialogue with his readership and his critics, transparently– he sees this as part of his role. He explicitly rejects the “truth-telling requires neutrality and requires you to be civil” model– “incivility” is an accusation used to silence inconvenient voices, not to enrich dialogue or uncover truth. As Michael Hastings said (I paraphrase) in arguing *for* the release of a transcript of one of his own conversations, which showed him in a negative light: “everyone knows I’m an asshole… the point is to show that they [the powerful in question] are assholes too.” It’s okay to be an asshole, and it doesn’t make you a liar. If you have something other than Greenwald’s style to point to when calling him less than truthful, show it; so far, you’ve only provided name calling, of both Greenwald and Rosen– we call that “ad hominem,” usually used when a critic has nothing else to fall back on.

So you are seriously asserting that your hero Glenn Greenwald never engages in an ad hominem attacks? That he never name calls? Have you read the guy? This is a guy who brought up Tom Daschle’s marital problems in an attempt to discredit him. He routinely accuses critics of bad faith, By your own standard, that means he has, and I quote, “nothing to fall back on.”

Further, sniping at people on Twitter, using, once again, ad hominem attacks, is not engaging with critics. It’s bullying them into submission. And it shows that he doesn’t have enough faith in your own views to engage in a regular debate.

Advocacy and the truth are not mutually exclusive. They are, however, the way Greenwald does it. That “not one comma” comment is the sign of someone who puts his causes before the truth. What kind of journalist would say something like that?

Greenwald’s first article that claimed the NSA had “direct access” to Google servers is an example of the “he said, she said” reporting Jay professes to hate. The slides said one thing, the tech companies said another, and neither was proven. And when some said to Glenn, there may not be actual direct access here, he replied, “Well, we just wrote what the slides said. But we wrote what the tech companies said too.” That is like saying, “Sarah Palin said on Facebook Obamacare has death panels. But officials deny it.” True he-said, she-said. He didn’t prove anything. And yet he published anyway. And even The Nation is calling him on it.

And what has his response been? “Barton Gellman wrote the same thing.” This is the same Barton Gellman who he called a liar a few days earlier.

Gleenwald answers criticism like a lawyer. He bobs and weaves, attacks the messenger, and when someone calls him on something, he changes the subject. It’s sad that impresses people, like apparently, you. Most can see through it.

A lawyer defends his client, whether it’s Assange, Manning, or Snowden. That is very different from what a journalist does, because a journalist has a responsibility to the truth, not just his cause and his friends.

A real journalist would be willing to criticize Snowden and Assange and Manning (who he has tried to get a lawyer for). Just like, I’m sad to say, a real press critic would be wiling to give an honest critique of Glenn Greenwald and his behavior in this affair.

Think if a political writer had said this about Barack Obama:

“I know Barack. Barack is a pro. I mean that in different ways…. He is methodical. He is responsible.”

People would laugh at him for such fanboy nonsense. And yet that is okay for a pres critic to say?

Or think if a student in Jay’s class had written a paper about a controversial friend? And Jay said: Well, you didn’t include any criticism? And the student said, like Jay just does, well I linked to controversial articles on Twitter.

Come on!

Thanks for your advice in how to be taken seriously as a critic and thinker. I will try to learn from it.

Your sarcastic answer shows me that you don’t really want to engage people who have issues with your work. Much like your Glenn, come to think of it. I really hoped you were bigger than that.

Let me ask you a question which you never answered: If you had an issue with a student’s (or other journalist’s) work, would you find it acceptable for them to react like Greenwald, by being defensive, and sarcastic, and questioning your motives? Or would you want them to take what you said seriously? Do you think you are being a good role model to your students by dismissing criticism with sarcasm, like you just did? For that matter, is Greenwald a good role model in lashing out at anyone who dares criticize his work?

I have no problem if Glenn (or you) have strong opinions. It’s okay if you piss people off. Good journalists do that. But that is only if they are telling the truth. If you are just pissing people off because you can’t take criticism, and want to play insult comic all day on Twitter, you fail as a journalist. You also, I might add, fail as an academic. Because you never hear other points of view, and you have no fidelity to the truth, or to having open debate. It’s only about protecting your agenda. Or your ego.

Only by hearing criticism of your work can you grow and learn. And that includes if you are a student, or NYU journalism professor.

Glenn Greenwald said on Twitter that “not one comma” of his story will ever be changed. Is someone who says he will never change one comma of what he wrote really a good journalist? Doesn’t that prove he isn’t open to other points of view, and possible errors in his work? Is that the kind of role model you as a journalism professor should be promoting?

So yes, Jay, maybe you can learn something from an anonymous dude on your blog. Otherwise why have comments and discussion at all? Shouldn’t you be a little more open-minded? Wouldn’t you want the reporters you target to be that way?

One more question: Do you have the guts to criticize Glenn? On anything? Or does being a so-called press critic mean that you can’t say anything bad about your friends and fellow ideologues?

One small thing in one of your earlier comments, noho. You said:

” That is like saying, “Sarah Palin said on Facebook Obamacare has death panels. But officials deny it.” True he-said, she-said. ”

Bad comparison. It’s obvious that any comment from Palin should be questioned because of her agenda. I don’t think it was unfair to assume that the PRISM slides were, at the very least, what the PRISM people believed they were capable of doing. Perhaps you could try to argue that the PRISM people exaggerated what they could do in order to get new customers?? But the “direct access” issue was not something that was alleged by an obvious PRISM critic who had reason to lie. Perhaps GG could have written something like “PRISM *claims* it has direct access to servers.” But what he did on that one issue was not way out of bounds.

BTW, referring to Prof. Rosen’s “fellow ideologues” means, of course, that you are calling Prof. Rosen an “ideologue,” weakening the objectivity of everything else you say.

I think it’s a fair comparison. Greenwald, et al, could have done additional reporting to determine if the “direct access” claim was true, as well as what the slides meant by “direct access” (which, two weeks later is still not clear). They took Snowden’s interpretations of the slides as gospel, and Snowden, whatever one thinks of him, clearly has a viewpoint and agenda.

And in fact, a few days later, The Guardian (sans Greenwald) published a story a few days later basically giving an alternative explanation for that wording. The WaPo walked that claim back a bit as well.

This is very similar to how Sarah Palin claimed that Obamacare has death panels. Yes, the reporting was accurate; she did in fact make that claim. And I guess it’s news that a former VP candidate said such an insane thing. What is more useful to readers is to determine if what she believed is true.

And I’m certainly not objective. Everyone has a right to be an ideologue. But if you’re going to be a press critic, you shouldn’t let your ideology, and friendships, get in the way. If Roger Ebert, clearly a liberal guy, praised every liberal message movie, or all his friend’s movies, he would not be as respected as he was.

[…] only attacking the leaks because they hurt the President. NYU Professor Jay Rosen’s piece on the matter addresses the issue of partisanship in the media, making a distinction between neutrality or […]

[…] the best take on whether journalism should or should not have a point of view, read Jay Rosen, who concludes that both are vital, and both have limitations, and for that matter, maybe we should h…. That still excludes shows like MEET THE PRESS, which I’ll remind you JUST ENDED THEIR […]

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[…] Jay Rosen has me thinking (again) about what makes good reporters good. I’m going to take a different path from his ”Politics: Some/Politics: None” piece. But it’s in the same family. […]

[…] Politics: some / Politics: none.  Two ways to excel in political journalism.  Neither dominates (Jay Rosen, PressThink) […]

It seems in some sense then Fox news was ahead of it’s time in the “some news” category? Ironic yet somehow fitting to call Fox News just a bunch of “bloggers”.

You really make it appear so easy with your presentation but I to find this matter to be actually something which I believe I might by no means understand. It seems too complicated and very huge for me. I am looking forward on your next submit, I’ll attempt to get the dangle of it!

A Journalist says:

You fool yourself if you think that politics: none (objectivity) is an option. All journalism has a point of view, explicit or implicit. The question is not “Is it objective?”, but, rather, “Is it fair?”. Responsible journalists don’t pretend to be other than what they are. No one is objective. We are beings with unique histories that have shaped our points of view.

Ah, thanks. You fool yourself if you think I made any claims like the ones you are refuting, and you fool yourself if you think this issue has not been addressed in this thread already. Thanks.